My Dress Rehearsal for Death

are_you_there_god_268x268In the year 2000 I found a golf ball-sized lump in my neck. Not having swallowed any golf balls recently, I decided I’d better see a doctor.

Dr. Yamagata was the opposite of the cold-but-efficient Asian doctor stereotype. He was friendly, laid-back to the point of “dude, what are you on?” and had a hopelessly disheveled office. He felt my neck and said, “Nothing to worry about,” then scheduled an MRI.

When I returned three cuticle-gnawing days later, he said he wanted to do a biopsy (extract the golf ball from its hole). I asked to see the MRI Report. “I tell you what you need to know,” he replied, and then left the room. The Report was still on the counter, so I scanned it. The word “lymphoma” jumped off the page and floated around in front of me.

I spent the rest of the day reading up on my new roommate. The facts were disturbing: non-Hodgkin lymphoma, one of the deadliest forms of cancer (in 31 flavors) has an alarmingly efficient kill rate. My wife and I prayed hard. That evening, the sheer preciousness of time with my clueless daughters (“Why is Daddy acting so happy?”) filled me with joy. We played like there was no tomorrow.  Because there might not be.

The days leading up to surgery were among the most transformative of my life. I was already a God guy, but the possibility of imminent death pushed Him from always-in-the-picture to dead center, obliterating former “concerns” (the need to fix that drippy kitchen faucet). My prayers evolved from “Please don’t let it be cancer!” to “I trust you, Lord, but…” to “Your will be done.” By the night before surgery, I was oddly excited. I might survive, I might not. But if I didn’t I’d have a year (give-or-take) to love the hell out of everyone!

The next morning they rolled me into a waiting room with several other pre-oppers. A skinny young minister approached: “Excuse me…would you…like me to, uh, you know, pray with you?”

I told him I’d been doing nothing but praying, but would be happy to have him join me. He said it was his first time as a chaplain and admitted he was terrified. So I asked him if he cared, and he answered, “Oh, yes!”

“Good. God’s got everything else covered,” I assured him, then asked about his ministry and family. He gratefully gushed. I was grateful, too—for having something else to focus on. Then I prayed for him.

When the orderly wheeled my gurney away, the chaplain shouted, “Thank you. You really helped me!”

I awoke with my wife’s hands around mine. Minutes later, Dr. Y came in looking unusually alert and said, “The tumor is benign.”

Turns out I had Rosai-Dorfman Disease, a dead ringer for lymphoma that is far rarer—only about 650 people on the planet have ever gotten it. It’s sole product: cancer-free golf balls. I was relieved, of course.

But also disappointed.

I hadn’t needed to make peace with God—we were already friends—but I’d spent a lot of time preparing to die for Him—to fully accept His will. After all, I had cancer.

But then I didn’t.

rjsphoto-act-081009-035I’m grateful for my dress rehearsal for death. It showed me what was in me: what (and who) I really valued, what (and who) I really believed. It allowed me to prepare to die for God (not as hard as I’d thought), and it prompted me to work on something even harder:

To live for Him.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Memoir, Religion/Faith and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

103 Responses to My Dress Rehearsal for Death

  1. Mitch that was great.

    That young chaplain.

    Death burns away a lot of dross.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. schoen55 says:

    I have faced death a few times, and found this to be so well said. Thank you for giving voice to the feelings those of us have felt before. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger in our Faith and Trust in Christ. Blessings.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Gary Fultz says:

    I understand the elation when all the layers of one’s life are peeled away and there’s gold in the core. So glad it “upped your game” to live for HIm” and more time to fix the leaky faucet.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. badfinger20 says:

    Just an incredible post…thank you. I’ve had one major scare and being at peace with God is what made it ok. I told my wife…everyone will die at some point…no one is immune…I’ll just be early for once in my life for something…I made it through fine obviously…but faith takes the hard edges off of the situation.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. John Eli says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful testimont. 💯🙌

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You were a God send for that young chaplain! A wonderful post

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Candice says:

    Having had a couple of similar scares, I can totally empathize with the progression from fear to peace. Your post has put the feelings into words very well! Thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. And there you have it… Knowing where you stand with your faith and where you are going is a great comfort. Yours was in the flesh where mine was in a dream, but with both we have solace. God bless you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. These experiences are so transformative when we really realize our own mortality. I appreciate your post and your honesty. Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

  10. What a great story! It reminds me of the beloved teacher at my children’s school who had cancer and admitted rather sheepishly to her pastor that she was actually excited about seeing Jesus. (The pastor shared that “secret” with about 500 people at her memorial service.)
    Death (of someone close to us, or the chance of our own impending death) does have a way of getting our minds onto what is truly important. – the “divine perspective.” 😉
    Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’m pretty sure you’ve helped a lot of people today.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. revruss1220 says:

    I love this story. Thanks for sharing it with us. The truth is we each live every day with a death sentence hanging over us. Sometimes events – like golfballs in our necks – make that sentence a little more clear and tangible. They help wake us up. Thanks for staying awake and sharing your insights with the rest of us.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Erika Kind says:

    Death is the gate back home and we feel that. Whether we want to walk through it or stay, we know to whom to talk to. God is always the closest when death is near. What a story. Is it a real story?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. nanciec13 says:

    I’ve had a few of those rehearsals as well. does tend to make one more willing to be in the moment and to trust!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Thank you God for saving you! You have the purpose in life. You make the movies, you are funny, and great preacher 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  15. And that’s the trick sometimes, huh? To live for Him?

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Art Mealer says:

    When I was fighting to come out of a coma in 2016 I finally gve up. I prayed in my delirious state, “Father heal me in this life or heal me in the next life. the choice is yours, I don’t care.” Yes, let the choice be His. He always chooses the right path. You’re right, fear causes us to dig deeo and explore every possibility. until we find His will.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. TEP336 says:

    It’s easy to love God in the good, easy times. It’s something else when the chips are down, and your life is on the line. It’s those times when we ought to cling to the Lord with all our might. Excellent word, Mitch. Glad to know you made it.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. CJ Hartwell says:

    I love that you comforted a nervous young chaplain! You have a good heart, and glad to hear the story had a happy ending.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. M.B. Henry says:

    I’m glad you are ok! Even in such a scary time you could comfort another 🙂 That’s very amazing.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Nancy Ruegg says:

    Praise God for the strength of spirit he gives when death comes calling (whether it’s a false alarm or not). So glad you shared this story, Mitch–a powerful testimony that God’s peace is REAL in the crucible.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. A powerful testimony!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. joyroses13 says:

    What a story, so touching and reminds us of what truly matters! Still have goosebumps! How neat to that you were able to pray for the chaplain, God intended you 2 to meet so you could boost his spirits. My Dad was a chaplain for many years, it can be very stressful.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. gregoryjoel says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Mitch. I had brain surgery a few years ago to remove an AVM (arterio-vascular maladjustment – imagine me being maladjusted!). To make a long story somewhat short, it became infected with several strains of meningitis (I won first place with my doctor!) and I spent 4 weeks in Neuro ICU. The takeaway is much as you’ve noted – I never would have thought that a ‘dress rehearsal’ could grant such freedom – freedom to love God deeper and to live more courageously. Thank you for the reminder!

    Liked by 3 people

  24. sandymancan says:

    The expectation of death is inevitably in life’s plan it’s only when we think its ready to reach out and take our hand, clarity we truly now understand priorities change! reality is gained but what always remains the same, the promise crucified on the cross its up each of us to ensure that it’s not lost.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. That is amazing! What a lesson learned. Beautifully written as well.

    Liked by 3 people

  26. Bob Martin says:

    Thanks for your candid sharing. Isn’t it a shame that it usually takes a crises (or near crises) for us to reach the deepest level of intimacy with our Savior? Living with a diagnosis of stage four prostrate cancer I can relate with much of your reactions

    Liked by 2 people

  27. A wonderful reminder to appreciate life. Thank you for sharing your story, well written and GLAD you survived!

    Liked by 2 people

  28. hannahtk says:

    Glad you’re still here a while longer, that we know of. May God remain dead center the rest of your days.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Laura Jinkins says:

    I can’t help but wonder if the mission behind your dress rehearsal was to be in the right place at the right time to encourage that young minister. The Lord works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  30. What an amazing situation The Lord allowed you to go through. He has His reasons, but I’m so happy that your outcome was good. I was away over New Year in Scotland at a christian adventure centre. One song we sang during the evening praise really spoke to me ‘As I step from this world into eternity’. I felt He was gently preparing me for death, whenever it may come. I knew I would one day fall into His amazing, all-encompassing love and that there was nothing to fear. He IS Good 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  31. grAnnie Roo says:

    I join the young Minister on his first day being glad it was just a golf ball. You don’t get out that easy, Mitch. Great gifts like yours come with great responsibility. Personally, I’m glad you take that seriously. Again, great writing, Sir.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. The only thing that God cannot do is fail! I was healed of pancreatitis. The doctor said that he couldn’t explain why I got better without any surgeries

    Liked by 2 people

  33. smzang says:

    all awesome but the last paragraph most surely has God’s great smile of approval

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Ann Coleman says:

    Just beautiful, Mitch!

    Liked by 2 people

  35. carhicks says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post Mitch. I have never had a scare for me, but as I told you before, my husband passed two years ago from pancreatic cancer. I prayed, oh I prayed, but it was Lord, your will be done, just don’t let him be in pain. God answers our prayers, it was quick and relatively painless, but the tears were for me, not him, he is in a wonderful place. I am so happy for you that your scare brought God front and centre for you. I know my situation brought me closer to God.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Ron Whited says:

    Love it Mitch! It reminded me of when I had open heart surgery. I was so calm and at peace that I suppose people thought I had lost my mind or something. Nope. I was at peace with God and figured that if the worst thing happened while on the table, it was going to turn into the BEST thing that ever happened to me. Either way, I was coming out a winner.

    Liked by 2 people

  37. What a beautiful way to look at your scary situation.

    Liked by 2 people

  38. themeonnblog says:

    This is beautiful!

    Liked by 2 people

  39. sitting bull says:

    Congratulations on your beautiful internal miracle!
    I call it a miracle because it well could be that your lymphoma was malignant before you prayed – and in case you say that the lab did confirm that it was benign before your prayers, I just would add:
    Who are we to limit god – and therewith the divine aspect within us – to our simplistic concept of a timeline ?

    And I say this even though I don’t subscribe to a mere external entity called god, but believe that god and our minds are all the same, because the world is holographic, meaning that just as each cell in your body has your entire DNA, each being has the entire god also in us.

    In this way it could be possible that you triggered your divine healing power and it could have been that you really had a malignant lymphoma, but believing in god you turned it around without knowing. So it looks as if you were “lucky”, but it could well be that you changed it.

    Here is the way I see how this works for atheists and orthodox believers alike:

    Your faith made it happen!
    I just wanted to add this to tell fellow Christians that we don’t have do dogmatise agnostics that Jesus is not “the only” way – because any faith is.


    • sitting bull says:

      typo in my last sentence: double negation : ‘we don’t have do dogmatise agnostics that Jesus is * “the only” way – because any faith is [a way to our divine spark].’


      • mitchteemley says:

        Thanks, SB. I don’t agree, as you know. In fact, the things I believe are essentially the things you reject in your comments above: that God is an intelligent being, that I am not God (although I am grateful to be one of his children), and that Jesus is indeed “the only way,” just as he claimed to be (John 14:6). You refer to yourself as a Christian, which is your right, of course, but your beliefs are more in line with those of Hinduism and other pantheistic religions than with what the Bible teaches. I am, nevertheless, always happy to dialogue with you on the subject of faith, or anything else, for that matter. Blessings.

        Liked by 1 person

  40. sitting bull says:

    Thanks for your answer Mitch,
    First about me being a Christian: I was born as a Catholic and was a very obedient altar boy.
    What did not agree with me was to see god every week in church as an old authoritative man who punishes you when you don’t believe in him (and indeed we were punished when not attending church), and who loves you when you believe in him.
    How could an almighty superior being be so conditional in his love? To me, who also had an authoritative father, I could not relate to this egotistical behaviour to only love the children who polish fathers ego.

    You see – I don’t even dismiss god as an intelligent entity – all I am saying is why does it have to be a personified one OUTSIDE of me, when it could be that I am INSIDE of god being of his cells ?
    Also why does god have to be male? Here we are at a time when feminists cry out that men did dominate them, and at the same time we still cling on to a chauvinistic version they would call sexist. If god is almighty it can not be that god is just of the male sex.

    The problem I have with this absoute “only way” issue is that this is exactly what did cause all religious wars in the past which in turn did create the worst atrocities I have seen in the world.
    Every religion believes that their path would be “the only way”. And this, Mitch is the reason why you see so often aggressive atheists, who really hate religion.
    I think no one hates something people love on their own, like Origami for example, but everyone hates to be dogmatised with their “only way” one has to subscribe to.

    Whilst I am not a Hindu at all, I see them to be much more integrating than Christians are: They also do believe in one highest god – the Om. But because to them that concept of almighty is much to abstract to grasp, they allow for thousands of ways to the Om in form of personified “sub-gods”, which would be similar to our angels, to be worshipped.
    One of them is Jesus which you can see in quite a few Hindu’s shrines.
    Hindus don’t shun Jesus, but Christians shun other religions.
    The most aggressive religions I have seen are the 3 Abrahamic ones who do cause most fights in the whole world – all from the same source.


  41. mitchteemley says:

    Hi again, SB. I’m so sorry to hear you were exposed to teachings and ideas as a boy that skewed your perception of God as unconditionally loving. He does at times discipline his children, but this too is an act of love. Do human teachers always accurately represent God? Sadly, no.

    Re. God being “outside” of people: His Spirit lives within those who receive him, and he does indeed seek oneness with them (that’s literally what atonement, “at-one-ment,” means), but this does not make anyone a part of God.

    Re. The idea that God is a “man”: I dealt with that in response to a previous and similar statement of yours; did you see it?

    Re. Jesus being “the only way”: That is what Jesus taught, and it is exclusivist in this sense: Californians insist California is in the United States; they are not open to the idea that it is also in Europe. If anyone were to go to war over this, it would not be because the fact is wrong, but because of the pride or foolishness of the people. They might even make a pact to agree that from now on California is in both of those places, but when they visit Europe they will not find California, because it is still not there.

    Re. Hinduism being more embracing of, or “integrating” with, other religions: this is a straw man argument. Many Hindu leaders claim they accept Jesus’s teachings, but what they accept is a Hindu version of Jesus who never existed. In practice, by the way, Hinduism in India is often quite intolerant of other religions.

    The Om of Hinduism is not a loving Creator, but a characterless force, of which all things are a part (back to pantheism). And angels are not gods or sub-gods, they are created beings just as humans are; God alone is to be worshipped.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. sitting bull says:

    Thank you Mitch, for your elaborate response.
    It dawns upon me why we both chose the different paths:
    You don’t want to subscribe to a potential egotistical philosophy of self-realisation,
    and I don’t want to stay in a child-like state where an almighty daddy sorts everything out.

    In your belief of “the only way” I must be doomed – until I subscribe to yours,
    and in my belief, the (divine) self(realisation) is the exact opposite of ego(tism).

    Maybe Goethe offers an all-including compromise for the both of us when saying:
    “Whoever strives with all his might, that man can be redeemed.”


    • mitchteemley says:

      For what it’s worth, I don’t have the slightest interest living “in a child-like state where an almighty daddy sorts everything out” (which is why I haven’t said that). I do intend to continue growing in my relationship with the infinite creator of the universe, who invites you to do the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      • sitting bull says:

        Sure Mitch, your approach is more mature,
        and I didn’t say that you would have such an interest.

        I merely did highlight both of our reasons for not walking the other ones path,
        so it was my reason for not wanting to believe in a “merciful saviour”. I feel that I have to do the internal house-cleaning myself

        And as to growing your relationship with the infinite creator: That’s what I mean:
        Whilst for now we walk opposite paths, it seems to me that in the end it comes down to the same: You pulling god down through your faith, like stalactite from above
        and me growing towards god with spiritual exercises, like a stalagmite from below.

        I am happy to finally have found the reason why even similar inclined people often do make so much ado about nothing.
        For now it seems that the best thing to do is to not to try to convince others of ones own faith.


  43. Art Mealer says:

    Jesus gave us many examples of how the master gave a servant responsibility. If the servant succeeded in his task the master gave him additional respponsibility. The servants that failed the test were ejected from the group. The Bible says, “God is a rewarder of them who dilegently seek Him”. In other words he is not a rewarder of who will not make a decision. Jesus said, ” You are either with me or against me.” Jesus showed himself to the disciples after his resurrection, and he personally appeared to Paul in order to make them firebrands. Every disciple ecept one waskilled by unbelievers, and one was even skinned alive. Personally I would want to float along and hopefully make a choice sometime in life, if I have time. I would want to know for sure.So I go with “go intio the world and make disciples of alll nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In other words, we have been ordered to tell others of the ‘good news” , whether they accept it or not.


    • sitting bull says:

      Interesting, Art. You just said the exact opposite of my opinion one comment above yours.
      My experience when being confronted with someone else’s truth, whether I like it or not is that at one point I had enough and totally turn away.

      From a mere strategical point – and I say this for your benefit – I think your endeavour is more likely to be successful if you let people come around by themselves.

      Ghandi once was asked by Christian missionaries why he had so much success preaching his truth whilst they didn’t. His reply was:
      “You just have to smell like your teaching, like a flower – then automatically people will be attracted.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Art Mealer says:

        People always make up their own minds. No one can be forced. That’s why we have free will. But, it’s a believer’s responsibility to make sure people know what the choices are. I don’t try to convince anyone of anything. If you’re sincere about finding the truth, you’ll satisfy yourself what is right and what is wrong. Good luck.

        Liked by 1 person

    • sitting bull says:

      Thanks, Art,
      I agree, and yes it is a fine line of knowing when to start helping others and when to stop preaching to others.
      Very slowly I am withdrawing, because I am less and less certain whether my words did really make a change.
      For the time being my rule of thumb is to give everyone a needed information or warning at least once, because we don’t want anyone to run against a wall – something I do aprecciate a lot in people like you and Mitch who are caring for others.

      However, I also realise that I thereafter have to leave it there, to allow for their free will and the information to sink in (which might takes years).
      To then let go is the most difficult part for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  44. Ana Daksina says:

    Reblogging to my sister site Timeless Wisdoms

    Liked by 1 person

  45. Pingback: My Dress Rehearsal for Death – Timeless Wisdoms

  46. Always, a soul-searching read. Blessings on your “recovery.”

    Liked by 2 people

  47. eslifestars says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, and I’m so happy that it was benign!

    Liked by 1 person

  48. paulbern77 says:

    Reblogged this on The Progressive Christian Blog and commented:
    Dress rehearsal for death? I’ve walked a mile in those shoes….

    Liked by 1 person

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